Nov 27, 2018

Q&A with Magda Martinez

by: Laura Kochman

Meet our new Chief Operating Officer, Magda Martinez. She is a writer, vocalist, educator, and performer, and a member of Las Gallas, a Philadelphia-based artist collective. After 16 years as Director of Programs at Fleisher Art Memorial, she’s here to help shape the strategic vision for Mural Arts. We’re all getting to know each other, so we asked her a few questions.

What do you love about Philadelphia? 

I love the people in Philadelphia. Having grown up in New York City, when I first moved here there was a part of me that said, “Ah, what have I done?” Because the Philadelphia of 25 years ago was very different from the Philadelphia of now. I would go out and I would want to eat late, and nothing was open. Like nothing. Not even diners. And I thought, “How can I live here?”

But what’s really kept me here is the people, and the opportunities that I’ve had here that I’m not sure I would have had in New York. I think because New York is just bigger, there are more layers that you have to go through in order to get to people. Here, the number of layers is much smaller and there are people I’ve met that I probably wouldn’t have met and interacted with in New York. Now, it’s home. I’ve been here over 20 years. I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities to be able to pursue the things that are meaningful to me as a human being.

I know that you're an artist—does that perspective influence your day-to-day work in the arts? 

Yes. I don’t think I could do one without the other. I think people think about those two things as an either/or proposition. And some days they are—sometimes I go home and I’m so tired from my administrative job that I look at my writing journals longingly. And I’m thinking about things that I want to write about, but I literally don’t have the energy to do it. But I also know that when I do write, I’m better. I’m better as a person, but I’m also better at my job because that creative act is feeding me.

Long ago, I made the decision that I wanted to—as an artist—create spaces for artists that I wish people had created for me. I was a teaching artist for 10 years before I took a full-time administrative job. When I took it, I was really clear that I wanted to set up artist residencies in the way I wish people had set up artist residencies for me.

At Fleisher, that meant I’d go and visit artists as often as I could at their sites. I’d try to place artists at a site or in schools over the course of two or three years, so that they were developing relationships and weren’t this UFO that landed and then left. I would do things like pay people for prep time and meeting time, offer people the opportunity to develop.

We call them teaching artists for a reason. They’re not just teachers and they’re not just artists. They’re not being just one of those identities when they’re in the room. For me, administrative work and supervision of other people is a creative act. It’s important for me to really look at the people that I’m interacting with and think, “What are the opportunities that I can afford them?”

Now that you've been part of Mural Arts for a few months, is there anything that has surprised you? 

I don’t know if I would use the word surprised, but I would use the word impressed. What’s impressed me is the extent of people’s commitment to work that is really hard. Work that asks a lot of them. It’s impressive, the level of commitment that people have to the art, but also to this idea of the impact that the art has on all of us as human beings.

Last updated: Nov 27, 2018

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RA Friedman says